Building Resilience in Children

Definition of Resilience: 
the ability to adapt and cope with disappointment, changes, adversity, trauma, tragedy etc. 

Why is resilience important? 
Our ability to demonstrate resilience when faced with negative emotions or events greatly impacts our deeper and sometimes underlying sense of stress or anxiety and provides us with a more positive approach when deciding what to do next. 

The more I look into resilience, the more I realize it's a skill to be taught- not necessarily something kids learn on their own. 

Who helps build resilience? 
According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, guardian or caregiver. 

Stacking the scales:
The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University's research has identified a common set of factors that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of adversity. 
These factors include:
* facilitating supportive adult-child relationships
* building a sense of self-efficacy & perceived control
* providing opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capabilities
* incorporating sources of faith, hope & cultural traditions.

Likewise, some researchers and Wellness Specialists have identified 5 pillars for building resilience: 
1.  Self-Awareness
2. Mindfulness
3. Self Care
4. Positive Relationships
5. Purpose

Life is stressful, we can't avoid it. Yet, people with resilience are able to thrive in that stress and discomfort instead of letting it overwhelm them. By living a more resilient life, we may notice improvements in our working memory, sleep and immune system functions. We may see an improvement in our relationships with others and with ourselves, specifically with a decrease in depressive symptoms & increased emotional well-being. 

Center for the Developing Child: Harvard University. Building Resilience
Teaching Self Awareness 
Feeling Good MN & their Bounce Back Project  
Brain Balance & Attention Span

Why is Building Resilience Important? 

How do we help build resilience in children? 

Positive Relationships: taking time to be present with each child either by participating in one of their preferred activities or trying a new skill together. Both of these scenarios present different pros! 
Being part of your child's preferred activity gives them the power to dictate how it goes and show off their skills/how they like to play. 

Trying a new skill together allows you, as the adult, to model self-talk to help you through an unfamiliar activity. Verbiage such as, "This is new and I'm learning. I can try my best!" or "Wow, this is harder than I thought it would be. I may need to take a break. " validates to you and your child that it may take time to learn and acquire skills for a new activity and it's okay to find difficulty in new experiences. This verbiage also demonstrates and normalizes to your child how parents "don't know it all" and we're all still human. We don't have it all figured out!
Our children  need to hear us learn and make mistakes so they can trust us when they make their own errors or need assistance. 

The beauty of building positive relationships is that you can start at such an early age. Children, babies and toddlers even, notice when they have your undivided attention and when you are distracted by work or technology. 
Also take a moment to consider: short, intentional bursts of time may be more beneficial than long-drawn out experiences- especially depending on the child's age. 

Self-Care: Exercise, eating a balanced diet, sleep. All of these work together to restore our body, brain and overall health. Children will imitate what they see. If they see you exercising, they may join you. If they see you eat a plate full of colors, they may be curious and more open to trying it themselves--even if they don't like it. (Check out Solid Starts for more ideas about introducing foods to babies and children). 
Sleep...our family relies on a solid night of ZZZ's to function at/near our best the next day. Lack of sleep for one night probably won't do damage but prolonged lack of sleep decreases memory function, emotional regulation and decision making skills. 
Creating a bedtime routine, limiting screen-time and even swapping out babies and children's night lights for warmer tones (yellow, orange, red) everyone may sleep longer. 

Mindfulness: It can't be just me. I feel like Mindfulness is a big buzz word right now and I believe, for good reason. Life moves quickly and with the growing boom of technology and having so much power in our fingertips, it can be hard to slow down, to appreciate the moment in front of us, to be present and to have any sense of delayed gratification. 

Remember when we were younger (I sound old), and we had to wait a whole week for the next episode of a show instead of the 30 seconds between episodes on streaming services? it forced us to move on... to get up from the couch, to change activities, to do something different besides sit on the couch and binge our favorite show. We need that interruption! 

Children need that interruption too and they need to be taught how to take it and when. As a teacher, I built in "brain breaks", "movement opportunities" or (preselected) "student choice" time and it was frequent. Why? Because developmentally, children should be sitting in focused work. Side note- the developmentally appropriate amount of time for children to be sitting in structured work is at a minimum double their age, maximum triple their age (i.e., a 7 year old can sit and focus for about 14-21 minutes).   

Purpose: the reason for why something is done or created. A recognition that we belong to and serve something bigger than ourselves. Purpose is our reason for doing something as big as starting a new job or dancing because it always makes us smile. 

Verbalizing our purpose helps others connect to our mission; big or small. Sharing with a toddler, "I'm a little sad. Dancing makes me happier. Would you like to dance with me?" verbalizes the emotion you are feeling and a solution to feel differently. The invitation for them to join you is completely optional and they may say, "no thank you" or "yes!". Either way, you should still dance it out! 
The same is true when working with adults. The reason why someone acts the way they do or says something helps others feel empathy, compassion and united in a sense of understanding. I am more likely to be compassionate and patient with my husband when he comes home and tells me he had a bad day, he's feeling disheveled and angry as opposed to him coming home and acting like a tornado without warning. 
When I feel "purposeful", I notice I am more optimistic, my stress is reduced and I am overall happier. My self-esteem is pretty high, my mental health is strong and I'm more fun to be around. 

Self-Awareness: Self-awareness is the ability to recognize your own emotions, thoughts, and values AND know how they effect your behavior. It's two's identifying your feelings, perspective AND realizing you have the capacity to influence others based on how you act on these emotions, thoughts, values. Heavy stuff. 
Naturally, one of the first steps to being more self-aware is to identify your emotions. This is extremely helpful for children as they encounter many different feelings during the day. As they mature, children will be able to connect actions to their feelings and be able to verbalize the event that led them to feel a certain emotion (i.e., "I'm sad because my soccer ball went over the fence".) 
Self-awareness is also about seeing ourselves honestly. I'm 5'4. I can not reach something on a high shelf, can't will myself to grow while in the supermarket...there are certain things I cannot do! However, I'm (getting) better at asking for help. As funny as this example may be, it's important for all of us to see our strengths and where we need some assistance. If we approach situations in a "strength-based" manner, we are likely to have a higher sense of self-worth. Lead from a place of strength and look for the helpers. 
Last point about building self-awareness is to work towards growth. We must continue to grow and adapt because the only constants in this life are Change and Death. Grow emotionally, grow physically, mentally and spiritually. 
Model setting goals and your measurements for achieving them. It can be as simple as a checklist before watching T.V. or a goal of exercising 4 days a week. Make it visual for your child to see and verbalize when you achieve it and when you fall short.